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NASA’s New Technology Saves Commercial Airlines Fuel and Time

A new application developed by NASA will help commercial airlines to save on their fuel and time. The Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) application will make "traffic aware strategic aircrew requests" (TASAR).

During the next three years, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines will use the Traffic Aware Planner (TAP) application, to make "traffic aware strategic aircrew requests" (TASAR).

"TAP connects directly to the aircraft avionics information hub on the aircraft," said David Wing, TASAR project lead at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. "It reads the current position and altitude of the aircraft, its flight route, and other real-time information that defines the plane’s current situation and active flight plan. Then it automatically looks for a variety of route and/or altitude changes that could save fuel or flight time and displays those solutions directly to the flight crew."

TAP can connect with the flight’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver and scan the ADS-B signals of air traffic to avoid potential dangers in any flight path changes, making it easier for air traffic controllers to approve a pilot’s route change request.

For airlines with Internet connectivity in the cockpit, TAP also can access information — such as real-time weather conditions, wind forecast updates and restricted airspace status — to further increase flight efficiency. The software is loaded onto a tablet computer, which many airline pilots already use for charts and flight calculations.

Wing, whose team has already tested the TASAR software twice aboard a Piaggio P180 Avanti aircraft and said the system worked well on its initial test flight from Virginia to Kentucky, according to its test pilot, former airline captain William Cotton.

"We used it to make a route change request from air traffic control, which they granted," said Cotton. "We got a shortcut that saved four minutes off the flight time."

Even four minutes of flight time shaved off of each leg of a trip made by an airline could result in massive fuel and time savings, according to researchers. The software provided similar results as flight tests continued in the northeast corridor. A second round of flight tests was recently completed to ensure readiness for operational use by partner airlines.

NASA researchers expect these aviation technologies will help revolutionize the airspace system, reducing delays and environmental impacts and improving passenger comfort and efficiency, even as the demand for air travel continues to grow.

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